Ruling

28003-20 Clunes v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      1st April 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 28003-20 Clunes v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of Complaint

1. Martin Clunes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doc Martin's wife in real medical drama”, published on 13 September 2020.

2. The article featured as part of a gossip column, and reported that the complainant’s wife had recently been injured.  The article also referenced an occasion in 2013 when the complainant “used knowledge picked up from the show [Doc Martin] to stop a ‘nonsensical’ operation to remove his wife’s appendix” and that a medic had, according to a quote purporting to be from the complainant, “handed [him] her medical notes to look at” which led him to “wonder whether there wasn’t some confusion between [him] and Doc Martin.”  It also reported that the source for the article itself was “equestrian friends”, and that the injured woman “co-direct[ed]” the television show Doc Martin.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.  He had not “used knowledge” gained from his time working on a television show to stop an operation on his wife. Rather, he and his wife had used their lay-persons’ knowledge to express concern over the necessity of a proposed medical procedure; the complainant’s acting roles had not informed his decision-making. He said that the story had gained traction in 2013 when a journalist had misquoted him, but he disputed the story in both a subsequent television appearance and in a newspaper interview. It was therefore a matter of public record that the story was inaccurate.  He also said that none of their “equestrian friends” had acted as the source for the story, and this his wife did not co-direct Doc Martin; she was a producer on the show.

4. The publication did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached. It said that the reference to the complainant using “knowledge picked up from the show” to prevent a surgery going ahead on his wife was intended as a light-hearted anecdote to provide colour to the story. As such the publication’s position was that any alleged inaccuracy arising from the anecdote would not be significant and readers would not be misled, as the crux of the story itself was accurate. It also noted that the story had been widely reported at the time of publication, and that none of those reports had been corrected. It further said that, while the complainant had disputed the accuracy of the anecdote in two interviews by stating that it was “exaggerated”, he had not said exactly what about the anecdote was inaccurate and therefore the true position was not clear at the time of publication. Furthermore, it did not follow that an anecdote which had been “exaggerated” would be inaccurate in its entirety. The publication also said that the article did not state that it was “equestrian friends” of the complainant who had been the source of the story, and that the phrase may have referred to “equestrian friends” of the article’s author. While it accepted that the complainant’s wife was a producer on Doc Martin, rather than a co-director, it did not consider that the inaccuracy was significant such as to raise a breach of Clause 1, where it was not in dispute that she held a role on the show.

5. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it offered to amend the online version of the article to make clear that the complainant’s wife had worked as a producer on Doc Martin, and not as a co-director.

6. The complainant said that, regardless of the anecdote about the complainant’s wife surgery having been widely reported in 2013, the anecdote was inaccurate.  He said that the newspaper should have taken care to cross-reference the information prior to publication, and that had any such check been made it would have been clear that the accuracy of the anecdote was under dispute. He also noted a journalist working for the newspaper had contacted a representative working on his behalf prior to the article’s publication and therefore would have had the opportunity to verify the accuracy of the anecdote prior to publication. He also said that it was clear what aspect of the anecdote were exaggerated.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

Findings of the Committee

7. It was not in dispute that in 2013 it was widely reported that the complainant had used medical knowledge gleaned from his time working on the television show Doc Martin to prevent doctors from carrying out an appendectomy on his wife. It was also not in dispute that, soon after the story had initially been reported in 2013, the complainant had publicly addressed it, both in a television and a newspaper interview, describing the story as “exaggerated”. What was in dispute was whether in reporting the anecdote the press had taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information - as required by Clause 1(i) - when including it in this article. On balance, the Committee found that the publication of the inaccurate information was not down to a lack of care on the newspaper’s part; several articles which reported the story in 2013 remained online and uncorrected at the time of the article’s publication, and the only publication which reported that the story was exaggerated did not make clear which aspects of the story were exaggerated. It accepted that the newspaper was not aware that the accuracy of the anecdote was under dispute, and noted that the newspaper may not have thought it necessary to verify the accuracy of the anecdote with the complainant’s representative, as the original story had been widely reported whereas the complainant’s subsequent comments regarding the veracity of it had not. Where the correct position was unclear prior to the article’s publication, and where the story was only disputed, in general terms, in a single newspaper article and a 7-year-old television interview, the Committee found that the newspaper had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

8. Clause 1 (ii) requires the correction of significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information. The Committee found that the reference to the complainant using “medical knowledge picked up from” Doc Martin to prevent surgery on his wife was not significantly inaccurate, where it was not in dispute that the complainant had said that he had prevented a surgery being carried out on his wife and where the claim was framed only as a passing reference and did not render the crux of the article inaccurate or misleading. For these reasons, the Committee found that the inaccuracy was not so significant so as to raise a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

9. The article did not state that it was “equestrian friends” of the complainant who had been the source of the story, and the newspaper claimed it could have referred to “equestrian friends” of the reporter. It did not, therefore, appear to be inaccurate to refer to the source of the story as “equestrian friends”. Furthermore, neither the complainant nor the Committee was in a position to establish further information regarding the source of the story, given the newspaper’s obligation under Clause 14 (Confidential sources) to protect confidential sources of information. 

10. The publication accepted that the complainant’s wife worked as a producer on Doc Martin and did not co-direct the series. The Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the online article to make this clear, but did not consider that this amounted to a significant inaccuracy such as to raise a breach of Clause 1, where it was not in dispute that the complainant’s wife held a significant position within on the production of the show.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 14/09/2020

Date decision issued: 16/03/2021